Three years after the pandemic left us all confined to our homes eating banana bread for months on end, Britain’s nightlife is well and truly back in full swing. And one group of people who are thoroughly making the most of it are the UK’s original ravers.
According to Eventbrite, the number of UK rave events on the platform has more than doubled since last year, and searches for ‘rave’ events have also increased by 71%.
But some of the raves themselves look a little different to what you might expect. While the music is very much the same, instead of drunk, sweaty adults jumping about in a dark warehouse, you can expect to find bubble machines, glow sticks and tiny ear-defender-wearing children careering about alongside their parents.
Keeley Cox, from London, met her husband Peter at a Fabric nightclub rave in 2002. From then on, attending raves and festivals became an important part of their relationship. “We didn’t want that to stop and were hell-bent that having a baby wasn’t going to change what we did,” she tells HuffPost UK.
The couple went to their first child-friendly rave in 2017, when their baby Emerson was just eight weeks old. They’d spotted a DJ posting online about a summer family rave hosted by Big Fish Little Fish at Alexandra Palace and instantly knew this was their opportunity to combine their love of raving with their new life circumstance: being parents.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to go along, listen to some music that we actually wanted to listen to and dance to,” she says. “And it was somewhere where there were lots of parents in the same boat as us, and a safe space to take a baby.”
Fast forward to now and the pair have two children together – Emerson is now six and Sullivan is one. Cox estimates her eldest has attended 10 rave events in total, while her youngest has been to two.
She likes the laid-back feel of the events, the fact adults can have one or two drinks and enjoy the vibes, and – of course – the fact there are lots of activities on for all ages.
When children are very little, she notes it’s more of a sensory experience with the lights and sounds. But as they get older there are craft tables, playdough, balloons and plenty more things to engage with.
And then, of course, there’s the dancing. She adds that her eldest occasionally likes to have a break dance. “We get to have a dance and it’s nice dancing as a family,” she says, noting their children always wear ear defenders at the events to protect their hearing.
Sophie Parekh, from Birmingham, is another mum who has attended raves with her children. Alongside her husband Rakesh, she’s been taking her child Leo to raves since he was a baby. (He’s now seven years old.)
“Leo wasn’t planned. I was 24 and had only been dating Rakesh for a year. We didn’t take to the sleepless nights and monotony of newborn life easily and fought considerably to try and live our pre-kids lives,” she says.
The pair attended a family rave event by Big Fish Little Fish before Leo’s first birthday and Parekh says it was “a lifeline” for them in early parenthood.
“We were able to blend family time with our love of music and dancing, into an afternoon outing which fell perfectly in between naps and lunch,” she says.
“We felt cool again! It was also an opportunity for us to make friends. As the first in our friendship groups to have kids, this was actually really tricky for us, but on the dance floor, we found kindred spirits.”
In 2021, Parekh started hosting Big Fish Little Fish events herself. “Our younger son, Hari (who is four), loves the raves when we attend but he’s a bit too young to come with us whilst we are working,” she says.
“Leo is now seven and more recently has come to raves with us and helped out on the craft table or with us, on stage, throwing out balloons.”
Big Fish Little Fish has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and Hannah Saunders, the CEO and founder, says their events keep growing in popularity.
At the heart of each event is a live DJ – nearly 300 have played for them so far, including Aphrodite, Jumpin Jack Frost and Mark XTC.
“There’s always another generation ready to dance together and enjoy that sense of freedom and community,” Saunders says.
“We’re now welcoming the toddlers that were born in the pandemic! It’s the best feeling ever to see children and parents letting loose and smiling at each other on the dance floor.”
Fly-Kid Family Rave is another child-friendly rave option that parents can’t seem to get enough off. The event was launched in 2019 when founder Emily Rawson wanted to give her son the chance to appreciate the music and dancing that she’d enjoyed as a raver.
“At our busiest we’ve had 500 children and adults dancing to the tunes that we loved but with newer artists, like Lizzo, thrown in,” says Rawson.
“Our parties have always been popular because we have confetti, bubbles, dress up and dance lessons and competitions for the children, while parents who want a break from the dance floor can visit the pop up stalls to enjoy top quality food with champagne or cocktails.”
As for why these events are so popular, perhaps Saunders sums it up the best: “The joy and euphoria the original ravers experienced is now being passed on to the younger generation and they love it.”